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A Mother’s Love, a Teacher’s Promise, living life with a full heart: Internationally bestselling author Alyson Richman shares this essay on THE SECRETS OF CLOUDS

By Leslie Lindsay

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of THE LOST WIFE and THE VELVET HOURS comes an emotionally charged story about a mother’s love, a teacher’s journey, and a child’s heart…..

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In recent months, I’ve stumbled upon antique stores with a greater curiosity for nostalgia of my childhood.  Almost invariably, I’ve unearthed toys or household goods that were once a part of my childhood. The Barbie Mercedes! A set of Smuf glassware from a restaurant chain! An early edition of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, the same type of cannisters that once adorned my childhood kitchen counters…and I think: these are antiques?!

I remember the 1980s with a brilliant, almost photographic memory. So when THE SECRET OF CLOUDS (Berkley hardcover, Feb 19 2019) came to my attention, I was completely intrigued. THE SECRET OF CLOUDS is internationally bestselling author Alyson Richman’s first depiction of a more contemporary era–1986, but it also combines pertinent topics of immigration, education, a parent’s love, a teacher’s dedication.

Richman is known for her sweeping WWII tales of WWII, like THE VELVET HOURS, and THE LOST WIFEthe latter of which is in development to be a major motion picture and is currently being cast.  Now, Richman pens a heartwarming story of love and the power of healing for a Ukrainian immigrant family living in New York following the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which I also distinctly recall.

THE SECRET OF CLOUDS is a journey of a mother and her son, and a teacher and her student.  A story that will make readers examine what it means to actually live life with a full heart. 

A Bit About The Book:

Katya, a rising ballerina, and Sasha, a graduate student, are young and in love when an unexpected tragedy befalls their native Kiev.  Years later, when the couple has safely emigrated to America, their son, Yuri, will be born with a rare health condition that isolates him from other children.  When a passionate and dedicated teacher, Maggie Topper, is assigned to tutor Yuri, she finds herself forced to confront her own painful childhood memories.  As the two forge a deep and soulful connection, Yuri’s boundless curiosity and unique wisdom will inspire Maggie to make difficult changes in her own life.  And she’ll never realize just how strong Yuri has made her — until she needs that strength the most…

“Exquisite and haunting. Richman writes with the soul of a poet, and her captivating new novel enchants while tugging ever so gently at the heart. Her story stands as a reminder to never take any day for granted.”

—Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece

When I asked Alyson a bit about the seed for THE SECRET OF CLOUDS, she responded with this thoughtful and touching essay about the goodness of people, the restorative power of humanity, and how teachers make a difference. What a perfect message for February. We hope you enjoy!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Writing with a Full Heart” 

 by Alyson Richman

In 2016, I began contemplating what my next novel would be. The year had been particularly tumultuous, with politics taking up most of the headlines, and I wanted to embark on a creative journey that would be both emotionally restorative and also reinforce what I believed to be the good in people.  Also, I had spent the majority of my career writing historical novels, several of which took place during World War II, and I wanted to expand my creative horizons and write in a different direction with a more contemporary theme.


Every one of my novels comes about from personal curiosity and a desire to leave something meaningful behind.  The first seeds for THE SECRET OF CLOUDS began one sunny August afternoon as I was sitting poolside with a dear friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher.  She was considering what projects she would be assigning to her new students that Fall. She mentioned to me how every year she instructs her third-grade class to write a letter to their eighteen-year old selves about how they envision their lives in the future, then she holds on to those letters for nearly a decade, mailing them back to the children the week they graduate high school.  I was immediately in awe of her!  She described that her basement had a filing cabinet in which she stored several years’ worth of letters, their envelopes all sealed shut and written in a child’s hand, waiting to be returned to their original owner at the appropriate time.

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I began to question her on what specific letters had stood out for her over the years. She shared a deeply emotional story about how one year, she tutored a child who was too sick to come in to class and attend school.  Nonetheless, she gave him the same writing assignment as the rest of her class, keeping his letter in her filing cabinet along side those of her other students.  The boy’s health improved, and when it was eventually time for him to graduate, poignant memories of their time together returned to her, and she realized just how deeply this one particular student had transformed her.  I was immediately struck by the profound and life-changing bond between a teacher and their students, one that can transcend time and distance, and I wanted to explore that more deeply through my writing.


Teachers have always fascinated me.  Their selflessness, their devotion to their students and the way in which they inspire a love of learning, are all something I’ve held in great esteem ever since the start of my own school days.  I know there have been several teachers who helped me become the writer I am today, ones who opened up the world of reading to me and nurtured my writing. I’ve also since been lucky enough to witness firsthand how so many teachers have helped shape my own children’s lives.  I wanted that powerful and special relationship to be the core of THE SECRET OF CLOUDS, while also showing how students can also positively reshape the life of a teacher as well.

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Also, because all of my previous novels have so extensively woven in a historical theme, I again wanted to create a backstory of a part of history that I felt needed to be explored more in contemporary literature. When my son was an infant, his first babysitter was a nurse from Ukraine. She shared with me her stories of the accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. I’ll never forget her describing how, for three days, no one in the area knew about the accident, so they were all outside sunning themselves in the unseasonably hot weather and bathing in the now unusually warm waters of the local river. Babies were soon born with rare diseases and heart defects akin to what my character Yuri has. Countless health problems related to the radiation leak still plague the Ukrainian population. I wanted to illuminate this trauma in my novel. Weaving together the story of the letters written by a classroom of American children and the history of Chernobyl was the perfect way to explore the themes that were important to me.


While Yuri, the main character in THE SECRETS OF CLOUDS is born with a rare health condition that prevents him from going to school, his heart is still full of the same hopes and dreams as his fellow classmates.  For me, so much of this novel is about living life to its fullest and leaving a lasting impact on those around you. In the end, the novel is about all the things that are important to me:  a mother’s love, a teacher’s dedication, and the profound wisdom that can be found in a child’s heart.

I hope you will enjoy the novel! 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SECRET OF CLOUDS, please visit:

Order Links: 

alyson richman1 credit jeanine boubliABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alyson Richman is the international bestselling author of The Velvet HoursThe Garden of LettersThe Lost WifeThe Last Van GoghThe Rhythm of Memory, and The Mask Carver’s Son. She lives on Long Island, New York, with her husband and two children.




You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:


#amreading #authorinterviews #bookreviews #fiction #Ukraine #Chernobyl #immigration #teachers #children

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Jeanine Boubli].



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